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British Airways unveils its new terminal at Heathrow
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    LONDON — British Airways showed off its new terminal at Heathrow Airport on Tuesday, a light-flooded, gleaming white modern facility with some of the latest technology, a first-class lounge with a cinema and a five-story-high wall of windows offering a view of Windsor Castle.
    Terminal 5 has 112 stores and restaurants and cost $8.4 billion. It took British airports operator BAA seven years to build as part of an effort to improve the world’s busiest international airport in time for the 2012 London Olympics.
    The terminal will only serve BA customers and will handle its first flight March 27.
    Robert Boyle, BA’s commercial director, told reporters on a tour of the new terminal that the airline cannot afford to have its reputation compromised by inadequacies at Heathrow.
    ‘‘We have to compete with business-class-only airlines, traditional ones and no-frill ones,’’ Boyle said. ‘‘Each year, surveys of frequent flyers around the world praise BA and criticize Heathrow for its delays, poor baggage handling and crowded terminals.’’
    The terminal, designed to make travel easier and more comfortable, features state-of-the-art equipment such as X-ray machines that don’t require travelers to remove their shoes and belts. Unmanned check-in kiosks can also screen a passenger’s passport or scan a visa.
    First-class and business lounges are unusually spacious, have a spa and are luxuriously furnished with chandeliers, wine racks and, in one, even a cinema. There are no fast food restaurants in the new terminal but it does offer a Tiffany’s jeweler and a Prada store.
    The main terminal is 99 percent complete; workers in hardhats could still be seen putting on the finishing touches while stores were being stocked with goods.
    Terminal 5’s completion shows how hard cities such as London are willing to work to maintain their status as world business and tourist hubs, commissioning showcase structures that act as shopping malls with art galleries, spas and Internet access.
    Terminals can be profitable in an era of tightened security, as travelers show up hours before their flights — and then shop or eat while waiting to take off.
    Terminal 5 will include a quarter-mile-long main building at the west end of Heathrow for domestic and short-haul flights, and two nearby satellite buildings that will primarily handle long-haul services. The buildings will be connected by an underground shuttle.
    The main building, which has a white steel roof 40 yards high, overlooks the green belt of the Colne Valley and the five-story-high wall of windows provides a view of Windsor Castle, a principal official residence of Queen Elizabeth II. Visitors can also see the arc at Wembley Stadium.
    The design is sleek and modern with gleaming gray marble floors and a flood of light from windows in the walls and ceiling.
    The Guardian newspaper said the terminal is ‘‘an architectural and engineering tour de force that raises the standards of British airport design 100 percent.’’ The Daily Mirror called it ‘‘an awe-inspiring temple to the twin gods of air travel and shopping.’’
    The terminal will have access to subway lines and the Heathrow Express train service into central London.
    Plans also are under way to replace Terminal 2, Heathrow’s oldest, with a new one called Heathrow East. Work is due to be completed before the Olympics.
    Heathrow Airport, which now has four operating terminals and two main runways, handles more than 480,000 flights a year.
    Only last year, London Mayor Ken Livingstone said Heathrow’s dilapidated infrastructure and problems with flight delays and poor baggage handling were shaming the city because they typified ‘‘the English short-termism, lack of planning, lack of investment.’’
    Britain’s government is currently considering granting Heathrow permission to build a third runway.
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